In a normal year, the Mad River Valley Community Fund responds to requests from community members who need financial help solving short-term and unexpected problems while also working proactively on communitywide issues. But 2020 was not a normal year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, the Mad River Valley Community Fund (MRVCF) quickly mobilized to help people, getting money out to people before anyone was able to get unemployment.
Board chair Ashley Woods said that they were able to create a better and quicker online application plus a separate application for COVID grants.
Rather than meeting monthly to handle applications, the board now handles applications by email, phone, texts and online quorums to make sure people get the help they need in a timely fashion. And it was successful.
In 2019 the community fund spent $95,000 on individual grants and $36,000 supporting partner organizations in the community. In 2020 the community fund spent $260,000 on individual grants and $60,000 on supporting partner organizations. In the first half of 2020, $140,000 in COVID bridge grants were issued as part of the $260,000 award in 2020.
Additionally, MRVCF was involved this summer in helping to get personal protective equipment for local childcare providers. That focus on helping child care providers is part of a larger community fund strategy that grew out of a retreat held three summers ago.
“Instead of being reactive (which is what we’ve always been) that was the old way, the board, after that retreat, decided we needed to go in two directions at all times. One direction is to continue to serve people in The Valley with financial hardship brought about by things that are not their fault. That is a lot of Rebecca’s work to try to help set that person on a better path,” Woods said, referring to the community fund’s program manager Rebecca Baruzzi.
“The second direction was we needed to focus on big problems and big solutions. We narrowed it down to transportation, housing and child care as the places that we think are in most need of help in The Valley,” she said.
To that end, the community fund was one of three partners that purchased a Subaru to create the Free Wheelin’ transportation service that offers rides to the doctor, shopping and other errands for seniors and others in The Valley. The Mad River Valley Interfaith Council and Mad River Valley Seniors partnered with the community fund on this project.
The MRVCF has been providing direct financial support to the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition by funding a staff person as well as funding for $10,000 grants for people who build an accessory dwelling unit and agree to keep it as year-round affordable housing for five years.
Last summer, MRVCF donated $50,000 to the Neck of the Woods (NOW) child care center in Waitsfield.
“NOW is the best hope we have to get some serious corner on child care. I’m super excited about that. Rebecca has been working hand in hand with them and trying to help. I think it’s a great use for that building and the exact right group of people are involved,” Woods said, referring to the former Small Dog campus which NOW purchased in January.
‘The pandemic has made us focus even more attention on these problem areas. We’re doing way more and we’re spending more money and we have Rebecca as boots on the ground bringing us the big problems and the big solutions as well as individual who need help,” she added.
The community fund conducts an annual appeal every fall and in the spring of 2020 community members and many second-home owners made unsolicited contributions and the group raised $100,000 over its annual appeal, Baruzzi said.